Rainbow Media Holdings, the Cablevision subsidiary which owns The Independent Film Channel (IFC), has reached an agreement to acquire The Sundance Channel for $496m, bringing together the two channels under the same umbrella in a move which could have major implications for film sellers worldwide.

Sundance and IFC have long been rivals in the business of specialty film programming and they were traditionally the only consistent TV outlets for independent and foreign films in the US. It is unclear how Sundance will operate under the new arrangement, although it is expected to increase its focus on original programming and reduce its focus on film acquisitions.

Rainbow Media Holdings now consists of AMC, IFC, WE tv and Sundance Channel.

Sundance Channel was launched in 1996 and was until now owned by NBC Universal (57%), CBS Corp (37%) and entities controlled by Sundance founder Robert Redford (6%). It reaches some 30 million homes in the US.

'We are always looking for strategic opportunities for our business and Sundance Channel adds another valuable asset to Rainbow's award-winning lineup of programming networks,' said Cablevision president and CEO James L. Dolan.

'Programming that attracts a dedicated viewing audience has always been Rainbow's mission and we think that Sundance Channel is an excellent fit and consistent with that rich heritage. We also believe that with Rainbow's resources we will have a tremendous opportunity to build upon Sundance Channel's success,' said Cablevision's COO Tom Rutledge, who oversees Rainbow Media for the company.

'The Sundance Channel team, led by CEO Larry Aidem, has exceeded every expectation I had for this venture,' said Redford in a statement. 'Innovation and integrity in both business and creative models have continually resulted in new ways of bringing dynamic programming to wider audiences,' he continued. 'We look forward to working with Rainbow to further distinguish Sundance Channel and to create even greater value for this important service.'

Rainbow will exchange 12.7m shares of common stock it owns in NBC Universal owner General Electric (GE) Company with GE in return for the GE stake, while CBS and Redford will receive cash for theirs.